Consumers in Orange County, buoyed by increasing incomes and constant media reminders that an economic recovery was in progress, spent a record $18.6 billion last year on taxable retail sales, with new cars and department store items leading the list of purchases.
The shopping spree represented a 17.6% increase in the dollar value of taxable retail sales in the county, the largest annual increase since a 24.3% jump in 1977. Statewide, the gain from 1983 amounted to 14.5%.
The Orange County sales figure, up from $15.8 billion in 1983, was second only to Los Angeles County's total of $57.5 billion. San Diego took third place with sales of $13.7 billion, according to a report by the state Board of Equalization.
Even after reducing the total by 5.8% to adjust for inflation, Orange County still had a "real growth" rate of 11.8%, said Jeff Reynolds, chief of research for the Board of Equalization.
Reynolds said the growth trend "pretty much" reflects the general upswing in the economy, although "California has often done a little better than the country as a whole" because of its broader tax base.
Purchases of automobiles, fuel and automotive parts accounted for the largest portion of sales in Orange County, including $1.95 billion spent for new cars; $1 billion spent in service stations and $196 million for parts and accessories. In all, county retailers rang up $3.5 billion for automobile-related sales.
In second place in the county were department stores, with taxable sales of $1.58 billion. In addition, the state report logged $211.5 million in sales at women's apparel stores in the county, $160 million at family apparel shops, $129 million at shoe stores and $86.8 million at men's clothing stores within Orange County.
Auto Sales Up 12.7%
Taxable sales at the county's restaurants and bars hit $1.6 billion. Grocery stores and supermarkets rang up $1 billion in taxable sales, and package liquor stores accounted for an additional $164.7 million in sales.
Automobile-related sales throughout the state totaled $38.9 billion, up 12.7% from 1983. New car sales accounted for $19.3 billion of that total, up 21% from a year earlier.
Food stores, liquor stores, restaurants and bars in the state accounted for $16 billion in taxable sales, an 8.3% increase from 1983, while department stores statewide posted a 13% gain with sales of $15.7 billion.
The report also noted a 3.3% gain in gasoline consumption last year after four years of decline. Motorists purchased 11.5 billion gallons of gasoline in 1984, up from 11.1 billion gallons the previous year. The record for gasoline sales in the state was set in 1978, when motorists purchased 11.9 billion gallons. In overall sales, California service stations reported a 3.8% increase in volume, with total taxable sales of $13.9 billion.
The San Francisco Bay counties continued pacing the rest of the state in their rate of growth, leading for the third consecutive year with 16%. However, Southern California ranked second, with a growth rate of 15%, and accounted for 57% of all taxable transactions in the state.
Reynolds discounted the 1% difference between the San Francisco Bay area counties and the Southern California counties as insignificant.
"I think L.A. County is limited in how much they are able to grow because they're so large already, but Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Riverside counties are all continuing to grow at a healthy clip," said Reynolds.
Orange County was ninth in the rate of growth statewide. San Benito County had the highest rate of growth at 27.9%, followed by Lake County with a 24.5% increase; Colusa, up 23.3%; Sonoma, up 19.8%; Monterey and Riverside, each posting 19.2% increases; Santa Clara, up 18.5%; Imperial, up 18.2%, and Alameda County, up 18.1%.
Orange County cities with the largest share of the county's taxable retail sales were Anaheim, $2.3 billion; Santa Ana, $1.9 billion; Costa Mesa, $1.5 billion; Orange, $1.25 billion; Huntington Beach, $1.2 billion, and Irvine, $1.1 billion.
Other major retail areas in the county were Garden Grove, $856.7 million; Fullerton, $822 million; Newport Beach, $778.3 million; Buena Park, $473.8 million, and Westminster, $638.3 million.
Shoppers in unincorporated county areas, including El Toro, Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel, racked up a total of $1.3 billion in taxable retail sales during the year.